The travellers make a brief excursion to view the famous Zung Falls in winter…


Carrying his sword in his hand, held mid-scabbard as usual, the Lord led them onwards. They were clearly getting closer to the falls: the rumble was constant, now, and you could hear it while you were walking.

Emerging from the woods, they found themselves near the top of a ledge. Exposed rock was everywhere, and had formed in vertical and horizontal slabs. Grasses grew straight out of the rocks, and violet and green lichens and mosses had colonised the blue-grey boulders which lay scattered here and there.

An open-sided viewing platform lay ahead. It was square, of wood, raised on stilts, and with a pyramidal roof, covered by snow.

The air was very still, but Zy could see a mist, localised at some point beyond the viewing platform, floating in oozing fumeroles above the snow.

The aquatic rumble was quite loud now, though you could easily have held a conversation in your normal voice above the noise. But it was deep, fundamental sound. Sal Soma had mentioned that the falls, although very beautiful in winter, were much more impressive in spring, when meltwater swelled the Zot, and greatly increased the volume of water passing downstream.

The platform was reached by a wide set of steps. There was something almost of a temple about the little building – or of a shrine of some kind. There were benches, too, of the very simple type Zy had seen in the courtyard of the Enza Junction station – two vertical slabs of wood forming the legs, and a horizontal one the seat. These were set at strategic points further away and up the slope to the riders’ right.

Akzasosan paused again before mounting the steps, and looked around. The riders breath, a milky gas in the cold, flared around them. The day remained breezeless. Pines covered the slopes, and seemed to have been left to grow naturally in most places, although there was some evidence of felling and of pruning closer to the platform.

Satisfied, Akzasosan nodded to the two boys to go up.

Zy felt a tremble of vertigo. He stood under the platform’s bare roof, and even in the chill smelled the resins of the pine from which the little building was made. He realised the platform was built right on the edge of a precipitous ravine. It was not actually cantilevered out into space, but when you glanced over the railing, you saw no ground directly beneath you, only a heart-slumping drop. Zy snatched out a hand to grab the planking struts of the guard-fence.

The noise of the waterfall had increased now. It was still not a thunder, but it seemed to work its way right inside your head, as if it had been born there. For a few instants, Zy was curiously reminded of the chant of the revellers in Black Earth – Zo-Do-Shion • Zo-Do-Shion • Zo • Zir • Zo : Zo-Do-Shion • Zo-Do-Shion • Zo • Zir • Zo – and also of the relentless drumming that had accompanied the chant – Dum-ba-dada • dum-ba-dada • dum • ba • da : Dum-ba-dada • dum-ba-dada • dum • ba • da… – the Zung Falls had both of those sounds somehow within its make-up. There was one sound, which was yet two sounds – a hiss, and a rumble.

And there were the falls themselves. To the riders’ right, with the upper ledge about thirty dedaziles away. The platform had been positioned so that a viewer could look slightly down upon the head of the falls, and have an uninterrupted view of the waters’ descent to the valley floor.

Akzasosan joined them on the SotoZara. The River Zot was crowded in by snow-covered tors, rock-banks, with sketchy, angular pines, gnarled and feathery, their branches humped with snow. Zy had a sense of cragginess, intricacy, intimacy. The channel was quite narrow, but the current strong, and the water surged towards the drop, as if desiring it.

Then, in three tiers, the water fell. Looking across and down, Zy again experienced a slight dizziness. In loose downward lightning and in dashed spikes, the water was split as it met one of the three main rock ledges to form side-channels. Atomised spray floated in clouds. Where the current was strongest, and the water moving at high velocity, there was a boiling white to the river; but where the current, after its plummet, slowed, the waters were of an extraordinary kingfisher blue, a scintillating colour which at any time of the year would have been spectacular, but set off by the pure white of the snow, entered Zy’s mind with a shock of beauty.

AramMin!’ the Lord gasped softly – (‘Lovely!’).

Zy seemed almost to fall into his own gaze. The world resolved into component colours for a few moments – dark green of pines, deep brown of tree trunks, pale, washed-out azure of sky, virgin dumplings and sheens of snow, silver-grey of rocks, and that electric, sapphire blue of the river.

Frost-sculpted ferns had colonised parts of the banks on all three tiers. Where the current and volume of the spraying waters were not sufficient to ward off the cold, lance-like icicles had formed, as if in certain places, time was different, and the moment had slowed to the frozen. Buccaneering pines, projecting at remarkable angles out from the ravine’s sides, broke the view to the falls with daredevil branches.
And all the time, that hissing, drumming sound. Absorbed in his gazing, the enigma of rivers called to the boy: Here I am, the waters seemed to say, ever still, and ever moving. If you looked long enough at certain parts of the flow, the current appeared to reverse itself, and to race backwards. But all the time, the river poured itself out in dramatic fashion – and yet was still there, it never emptied itself, it remained, in some ways, motionless.

In long mare’s tails, the main falls curved and dropped out through space. Where they met the rock ledges, there was a perpetual motor of noise, the sound of energy dreaming. Zy felt that this sound must be part of the foundations of the world.

Water coiled, eddied and bubbled. It shovelled itself into great scoots of pearls being slung off some obstruction. Bubbles endlessly winked in and out of being.

Zy experienced a moment of profound connection, understanding things right down in his veins. Here, the riders stood, delighting in the view of the Zung Falls: but at exactly the same moment, this same river, the Zot, was also flowing out to join the great River Vo, hundreds of karsts away, in a different canton, perhaps watched by different people – at the exact same moment. Yet the river was the same: the waters were not broken, not separate, they formed one seamless flow.

Akzasosan leant, with his hands gripping the upper plank of the railing, and with straight arms, like a kind of general marshalling the forces of the view.

Excerpt from River Direction, Volume 13 of Dustless

orientate | “dedazile” – a unit of length, equivalent to a metre

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